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Tuesday 8 September 2020

8 Things That Put Me On The Podium At Triathlon

I’m not the quickest triathlete and I never will be. I train regularly and consistently … and more importantly I follow these simple guidelines ...

1. Know your numbers. 

What is the best pace you can hold and finish? Know your stats. If you go too hard and blow up, it’s going to be a long, sore walk home … so know what your hard numbers are. Also think about your trade-offs … if you slow down on the bike, does that mean a quicker run and quicker overall time for you?  Find out. You’ve got months of training and this is the perfect time to try out your race scenarios. 

Alternatively, if you’re chasing cut offs what can you do to improve your times? Is a run walk quicker than blowing up at the end of the race? A friend and I ended up placing at an ultra by following a 9 min run, 3 min walk on a multi-day event and ended up passing multiple competitors who were following a ‘run the whole way’ tactic but who were running slower and not getting the recoveries that we were. 

Also are your transitions shocking? Find out what it is that is taking up your time? If you’re 5 minutes in transition, how do you cut that down to 2 minutes? That’s 3 free minutes right there. If you knocked 3 minutes off your swim time you’d be ecstatic. 

2. Practise your nutrition. 

Don’t eat too much beforehand … no one wants to have to stop for 3 poos. And when you have under-fuelled, the feeling that you’re going to crash-and-burn is horrific. When you stand on the start line for a race, you need to be confident, that you have done all of this before. You need to know when to take your gels, your pies, whatever works for you but you need to know what it is and that it works for you. Personally, I have a large bowl of porridge and marmalade a few hours before, a snack while I’m setting up in transition and then a flapjack style bar or two on the bike plus jelly shots and gels on the run – 1 every 2.5 miles. That might sound a lot, but I’ve practised with that and know it works for me. 

3. No time or don't want to do it? Don’t overthink it.

Sometimes an attempt at a session or half a session is better than no session at all. You’ll end up surprising how much you can do most of the time ... and you’ll feel better for having done some than having done none. I don’t like training in hot sun … but I do because I know if a race is on a hot day, I’m going to HAVE to race in heat. Better to have practised in it and know how it feels. 

The exception to this is if you’re ill or overtired. 

4. You don’t need the top kit, the top bike but some good essentials will see you through. 

You don’t need a 5 grand bike. Mine cost me about £1400 4 years ago and she’s done plenty of miles and I love her. I know just how she corners in the wet, the dry and the ice and I also get regular bike services so I’m less likely to suffer a mechanical problem in an event. Trust me, this is worth the £35. And on that note, get a decent saddle - it’s a long time on your arse. 

Find a wetsuit that suits you. You’ll probably need to try a few out as they all fit differently and different suits for different folks. Everyone prefers a different one. A lot of the lakes will offer wetsuit hire and it’s worth trying a few out at different sessions to get a feel for which you prefer. They ARE pricey, but they’ll also last a few years if you keep on top of repairs and treat them carefully. 

Don’t skimp on trainers – it took me a while (and a few injuries!) to learn this lesson. it’s worth investing a few quid to get some specifically for running. A good running shop will be able to offer advice and guide you towards the right ones. And once you know which ones suit you, you can always order the same model again. 

5. Don’t rely on the training aids. 

I have fins but don’t need them. I’ve used a tempo trainer but don’t use it regularly. Sometimes simple is easier and forgetting a ‘crutch’ in a race will worry you. If you train with a nose clip and then forget it in a race, all you’re going to be able to think about before the swim is not having that nose clip. Get used to swimming without them.

6. Make life easy for yourself. 

Have some easy training routes nearby. It makes life simpler if you can just head out the door without having to think about routes if you know the 3 miles, 4, mile, 10 mile loops near you. 

7. Remember your mental strength.

Does it hurt? Of course it does. But everyone else is hurting too. Remember you’ve put the training in and you can do this … and you can keep doing it until the end of the race. Believe in your training. 

8. Get a coach. 

You can have the best plan but you need someone on the outside looking in. Are you overtraining? (Easy to miss this if you’re self coaching). A coach can spot what tweaks can make you more efficient, whether it’s time to add more reps or more power to your sessions … and when to drop it down. Also if you are happy to spend a couple of grand on a bike, then surely improving your times by getting a coach is a no-brainer, right? I truly believe that this is the best way to improve your training and racing – and it’s so simple but athletes don’t do it. And then wonder why they burn out, don’t hit the times or aren’t working to their full potential. Trust me on this. Worth it. 

Ok. Those are my top tips right there. You get those right and you’ll be smashing your targets and hopefully standing on that podium. 

Any other top tips, you’d like to add just drop me a comment and let me know how they’ve worked for you. 

Thursday 3 September 2020

12 Hours on Zwift: Appalling Maths and hating on Central Park

How did you cope with the lockdown? Did you prefer working from home or were you out and about, working as usual?

Pre-Lockdown ... during it was almost all indoors!

I was lucky enough to be out and about for work. I love my family, but I’m well aware how annoying I can be and with my husband working from home and child off school, I didn’t want to end up falling out with everyone or locking myself in the loo to drink gin in the bath. That’s for weekends.

However, I’m one of the lucky ones. My family unit is fairly stable. But what if it wasn’t?

During lockdown, domestic abuse killings doubled and calls to helplines went up by 49%. That’s a huge increase. With people all stuck inside together and no respite, it was estimated that at least 16 domestic abuse killings of women and children had taken place in the first three weeks of the lockdown. (1)

I work in a role where domestic abuse is often seen and when I found out the stats, my friend Rachel, in a similar role, and I decided to try and help by raising some money for the Crisis Centre in Birmingham.

Now Rachel, as previously mentioned, is my ‘Yes Friend’. An important friend to have, particularly when planning bonkers adventures and madcap ideas and need someone with enthusiasm and a shared delight of cafe stops. But this time, it was my turn to be the yes friend. And there were to be no cafe stops.

Rachel’s crazy idea was to ride for 12 hours … on Zwift. If you’re not familiar with Zwift, it’s basically a computer game which doubles as a training aid. You hook your bike up to it, pedal like mad and Zwift tells you you’re going up mountains. It’s a bit more complex than that, but that’s the gist. 

And she wanted me to spend 12 hours doing that. On my own. In the house. Like a lunatic.

So of course I said yes. 

We planned to start at 0600hrs in the morning and Rachel would plan a ‘meet up’ on Zwift which meant that the program would link our bikes to ride together. The lovely Charley would be joining us for a few hours and we’d all be chatting way on the Discord app to make the time pass faster. 

Ready to Go!

So with my usual perfect timekeeping, I was 7 minutes late in joining. I could blame, Zwift, my bike shoes for hiding or the cats for being irritating little gits … but actually it was my usual appalling sense of time.

As a result, the software wouldn’t let me join the meetup. This is standard, but being new to Zwift I didn’t realise I had to be riding before the start of the meet up to join in. Again … I’d blame the software being awkward … but it was me being incompetent. 


Finally after a couple of false starts, we all got our little avatars cycling together in the pixel-perfect world of Watopia at 0625hrs. Perfect. Our little people all cycling around a made-up world while we cycled hundreds of miles apart in our own houses. 

My new favourite thing in the world

We were chatting via Discord which is a free chat app on our phones and it actually made it feel like a proper group ride. But without having to avoid snot rockets, potholes or delivery vans but while still being able to shout at each to take the front so the rest could draft. Perfect. 

My working strategy was to have a break every few hours for snacks when I would stop my clock to ensure I got the full 12 hours in and restart it when I started cycling again. After my snacks had been gobbled. 

We were having a grand old catch up and chatting about various important topics (Does chamois cream go on your arse or the pad of your shorts? Does cider count as fuelling? How many pairs of bib shorts is too many? Should bike shops offer husband receipts?) and collectively decided that a quick snack and drinks bottle refill every couple of hours would be about right and save us getting too exhausted later on in the ride. The first few hours had flown by with the chat and excitement of starting our enthusiastic but static adventure as we got off our collective bikes to scoff our first snacks.

Snack duly gobbled, I climbed back onto my bike to find that my little Zwift cyclist was refusing to move an inch. I was pedalling, the turbo was on, everything was connected but my avatar had clearly gone on strike. What the watt? Power was showing in the menu screen meaning everything was connected and it was recognising I was pedalling but it wasn’t moving my cyclist in Watopia. I could spin my legs as fast as Roadrunner when Wile E Coyote arrived with the Acme Dynamite but without Zwift recognising I was doing it, cartoon Sarah wasn’t going anywhere.

Stupid cartoon Sarah. She’s clearly as stubborn and as much of a pain-in-the-arse as real life Sarah.

I paired, unpaired and repaired. I switched things on and off but no luck. Last option. I stopped the Garmin with a beep and restarted Zwift. Sigh. I’d lost the first part of the data in Zwift so was going to have to remember what time I’d done and add that onto the next section.

Well THAT’S going to end well, isn’t it?

Surprising how much this helps!

I started up Zwift but as I’d exited the program, it wouldn’t let me rejoin my cycling buddies. So Rach and Charley were cycling in Watopia and I was cycling in circles in Central Park in the virtual New York. Being new to Zwift, I had no clue how to choose which route I went on so I popped up on the route the program chose for me. 

Gosh. Lucky Central Park is an interesting route, isn’t it? … isn’t it?

It was fantastic for the first 2 hours … but with no clue how to change the route I was on, the short loop of Central Park got boring very quickly. AND I STILL HAD 10 HOURS OF IT TO GO.

I started getting very very sympathetic to the plight of the lonely goldfish circling the bowl.

The girls were chatting away which was lovely and made me feel a bit less as though I was pedalling away for an entire day in my house like a lunatic. Which I was. Charley dropped off the ride at lunchtime as she’d hit her target of longest ride of 5 hours which was absolutely brilliant. It was fantastic to have her along for the ride and her chat and quick wit kept the hours ticking past. We also got some lovely support from JJ who dropped in to say hello.

I can't do THIS on the bike normally!

As the miles ticked onwards, the chat lessened and as we got towards 100 miles, Discord tailed off into silence.

I don’t think my ranting about endless loops of Central Park helped. 

I decided that now was the time to fall back on Plan B and stuck Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade followed by Indiana Jones and The Holy Grail on the TV. Singing the theme tune like a lunatic cheered me up and took my mind off the fact I still had to sit on my now very sore fanny for another couple of hours. I decided monsters would take my mind off it and put on the classic film, Tremors. Who doesn’t like a classic monster film? 

Me. I’ve gone off films and cycling altogether at this point. Lying down I could get on board with. So long as it wasn’t in bloody Central Park.

Central Park could do one. 

I was on the last section now. 2 hours to go and I was joined by the lovely Laura Donald for a section. I spotted her avatar’s name pop up on the board on Zwift and it was lovely having a bit of company. It’s surprising how much quicker the miles go with support. If only it was possible for one of my buddies to actually go into Central park and push that bloody avatar round to save me pedalling, I’d be hugely appreciative. 

My lovely Rugby Tri girls dropped me a message and gave me a boost with some chat on Discord and Dan from Rugby Tri rode with me for the last section giving me the benefit of a bit of a draft – much appreciated! 

I was counting down the minutes now. The girls kept me going with chat … and every now and then would ask how long I had to go. 23 minutes …. 12 minutes … 7 minutes … 3 minutes. 

Nearly there. Just keep talking, girls. So long as you keep talking, I can keep pedalling.

And it takes my mind off how much I bloody hate Central Park right now. 

And done.

I stopped the watch. Finally. It was showing 12 hours 4 seconds. I was done.


Didn’t I stop the watch when I restarted Zwift when it crashed 2 hours in …? 




Due to the snack-breaks and toilet-breaks and general fannying-around-breaks, I had completely lost track of time. I’d stopped the watch when I’d got off the bike so wasn’t sure at what time approximately I was due to finish. 

I HAD thought it was taking rather a long time …

Because this absolute twerp had cycled for 2 extra hours as she had forgotten she’d restarted the watch when she restarted Zwift.

2 additional hours of cycling around Central Park. 2 additional hours of resting on my battered fanny. 2 additional hours of abusing my legs on the bike. 

This betwattled idiot could have climbed off her bike 2 hours ago.

BUT £845 raised for Birmingham Crisis Centre. Additional resources and funds to help people in crisis.

Worth it.

Thank you.

Should you feel sorry for my poor legs or just having a chuckle at my appalling maths skills, the Just Giving page is still open here: Just Giving